Low Potassium Diet
Foods low in potassium for those with kidney disease, Addison’s disease or taking certain medications
Following a low potassium diet for kidney disease, Addison’s disease or because of being on a certain medication? Check out this article and list of foods low in potassium.
What is potassium and why does my body need it?
Potassium is a mineral required by the body for several physiological processes including regulating heart function, fluid balance, and plays a role in nerve conduction and muscle contraction. Since your body cannot make potassium itself, it requires an external source – your food, to obtain it.
Maintaining the right balance of potassium in the body is key. Too much or too little potassium can cause unwanted effects.
If the potassium in your blood is too low (this is called hypokalemia) you may experience weakness, fatigue, muscle cramps and/or abnormal heart beats.
If your potassium becomes too high (this is called hyperkalemia) you may experience nausea, vomiting, weakness, muscle fatigue, irregular heartbeat and/or paralysis. In severe cases high potassium can cause death. To maintain this delicate balance your body primarily uses its kidneys to regulate potassium.
Why might I need a low potassium diet?
There are several reasons why you could need a low potassium diet. The most common reason is a decline of kidney function called chronic kidney disease (CKD). Other reasons for high potassium in the blood are Addison’s disease, and use of certain medications.
If you have any conditions that put you at risk for high potassium levels, you doctor should be monitoring you with regular blood work. If you show signs of high potassium, your doctor will then recommend you follow a low potassium diet. It is usually not recommended to start a low potassium diet until you need to, that is until your blood shows abnormally high levels of potassium. In early stages of kidney disease, with only a slight decline in kidney function, it is not always necessary to worry about potassium in your diet.
If you have been instructed to follow a low potassium diet, what does that actually mean? Typically, a low potassium diet is defined as one that limits dietary sources of potassium to 2,000mg per day, which is just under half of what is recommended for the healthy population. That said, the degree to which you need to limit dietary potassium really depends on your individual kidney function, those with mild disease, it may not be necessary to strictly limit potassium.
For those with quite low kidney function, potassium restriction must be more strictly followed. Additionally, anyone who may need to be mindful of their potassium intake for other reasons, may require varying degrees of dietary restriction. This is why the help of an experienced Registered Dietitian or Renal Dietitian (aka a Kidney Dietitian) is key. A Dietitian can help you figure out which level of potassium restriction is required for you, at this point in your life.
Which foods contain potassium?
If you have been put on a low potassium diet and done some of your own research, you will quickly realize that potassium is in many foods. And not just that, it is in all the healthy foods that you thought you should be eating. Fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, dairy, and whole grains are all sources of potassium. The good news is that each one of these food groups contains foods with varying levels of potassium, so while you may need to limit certain fruits or vegetables, for example, there are many others that you can enjoy.
Upon learning that potassium is in so many foods, it’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed. This is another reason why consulting with a Registered Dietitian or Renal Dietitian is in your favour. They can help sort out what foods are the highest sources and help you put some reasonable limits on those higher potassium foods.
Low potassium food list
Looking for a list of low potassium foods? Wondering which foods are high in potassium? For a summary list check out this list here from the BC Renal Agency: Low Potassium Foods & High Potassium Foods
To get your started on the low potassium diet, here are some basic guidelines to be used in conjunction with a list of high and low potassium foods.
Depending on your individual condition, these guidelines may need to be adjusted. This is a good place to start, though, especially if you are waiting to see a Registered Dietitian who can personalize the low potassium diet for you.
- Choose low potassium fruits and vegetables most often. Aim for at least five ½-cup servings of vegetables and fruits each day. Working a dietitian can help you determine how many servings of high potassium fruits and veggies you can safely eat each day or week.
- Choose fresh or frozen low potassium fruits, rather than dried fruits. Dried fruits are generally high in potassium which make it easy to unknowingly consume high potassium servings of them.
- When consuming high potassium root vegetables (such a potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets and rutabagas), use the leaching process to decrease the potassium content. Leaching consists of peeling, cutting up and soaking these root vegetables overnight (or for at least 2 hours, but more is better). Make sure to change the water a few times while soaking, as this leads to more leaching of the potassium. After you’ve soaked your root veggies, discard the water once aid and boil in fresh water, as usual.
- Limit dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese) foods to 1-2 servings per day.
- Keep hydrated – drink mostly water. If you drink juice, avoid high potassium juices (such as orange, mango or tomato-based juices) and limit other juices to ½ cup per day of low potassium juices (such as cranberry or apple). Choosing whole fruits over their juices is better as potassium becomes more concentrated when you make a juice, plus you’re missing out on valuable fiber when you opt for juice instead of the fruit.
- Limit coffee to 2 cups per day.
- Avoid potassium-based salt substitutes, such as “No Salt”. Flavour your food with spices and herbs instead of salt or salt substitutes.
- When looking on food labels, check to see if the potassium content is listed. If a serving has more than 200mg of potassium, it is considered a high potassium food. It’s best to limit these foods. If a serving has less than 200mg, enjoy in moderation. Make sure to take note of the portion size and a low potassium food can quickly become a high potassium food at bigger portion sizes!
- Avoid supplements that contain added potassium. This goes for protein powders, sports drinks, or other “health” foods, as well, that may contain additional potassium. Always read your product labels!
- Avoid constipation – while not a diet tip exactly, constipation can contribute to high potassium, as the bowels are one way your body rids itself of excess potassium. If you find that you trend towards constipation, ensure you are drinking enough fluid and getting fiber from those low potassium fruits and vegetables. Consult with a Dietitian or Renal Dietitian for more dietary strategies that can help with constipation on the low potassium diet.
Where can I find more support?
If you have kidney disease you may also want to check out this previous article on our blog: Foods for Kidney Disease
While following a low potassium diet can seem overwhelming at the start, working with a Renal Dietitian can help. If you are seeking support from a Calgary Renal Dietitian or Online Nutritionist for a low potassium diet we can help.
Contact Us for more information on how we can help.